78 days ago.
That morning, I had burned my tongue on my coffee which already had too much cream in it. I remember this because the pain was something that I could focus on. Something besides his leaving.
Usually, when I’m sad, I’m numb. Yet, this time, I felt everything as the sharpest little poke in my organs. Each prick made another tear fall.
I was a water balloon that the world was trying to deflate.
With the change for the bus weighing down his left hand and a small backpack stuffed with enough socks, underwear, and T-shirts to get him through at least a week, he finally stopped staring at the ground long enough to look me in the eyes.
I winced when I saw the discolored skin of his cheekbone. The perfectly sculpted landscape that I shattered with a beer bottle one night.
How many scars did I give him?
Throwing my arms around his slender torso, I felt him stiffen against my touch like I was a leper.
I read in the book on abuse that he kept stashed in an old shoebox in the closet that relationships like ours were a sickness.
“Don’t cry, Lissy,” Jonathan whispered against my hair as I clung to his shirt.
79 days ago.
The bottle of Jack Daniels slipped from my hand and burst against our wooden floor when he had grabbed my waist to keep me from falling down with it.
My brother’s name was Daniel.
My fists pounded against Jonathan’s chest, hands splaying on his face, yanking at his hair, kicking into his legs. All of my limbs were ruthlessly attacking as I screamed that he should have let me fall, that he should have saved my bottle. That he should have saved my brother’s “brother” from the shrapnel.
It wasn’t fair to hold him responsible for every dead member of his unit, but wasn’t that what the army taught you?
He should have saved his sister from the helicopter accident. He should have saved Daniel’s other family from everything that took the men and women he called brothers and sister. He should have saved them from the pills in their cabinets or the syringes in their backpacks or the pavement below his eighth-story window.
6,582 days ago.
When I was little, my parents would throw me back and forth to one another in the pool in our backyard. I would screech and squeal. I laughed every time they missed and the water had to catch me.
The pavement didn’t catch Daniel like the water caught me.
I should have saved him.
245 days ago.
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
I learned CPR for the first time when I was fifteen. Three compressions every two seconds. Repeat until the ambulances arrive. Don’t be afraid to break ribs. By the time I started compressions on Daniel’s limp body, all of the ribs were already ruined. Each thrust into his burly chest was filled with an inhuman force and haste.
Touching him was like pressing my palms into a line of tomatoes. The outside was firm until I pressed enough to make the juice gush.
Hard. Squishy. Hard. Squishy. Muscle. Organ. Hard. Squishy.
I performed the compressions so long and vigorously that I sprained my right wrist. I didn’t even notice until four hours after the police arrived to cover his body in an ugly tarp.
79 days ago.
“He’s gone!” I cried. “He’s gone, and it’s your fault!”
Jonathan took each blow like a soldier taking orders. He was more than accustomed to it. He never struck back. He never disobeyed his captain.
“You were there! You should have known! You should have done something!”
How could they see Daniel’s PTSD and do nothing?
“You were supposed to keep him safe! You were supposed to save him! Your fault!”
78 days ago.
This was our crossroads.
“Don’t cry,” he repeated. “You know I can’t stay away from you,” he said with a weak smile. “I’ll be back.”
Jonathan waved from the bus until it was out of sight, but I stood on the corner of that street until it was long gone. My fingers wrapped around the dog tag he placed in my hand as it grazed my palm for the last time. I strung it next to the others on the thin, silver chain around my neck. Susan. Nick. Joseph. Grace. Daniel.
My brother and his friends were immortalized in the cool metal that bruised my clavicle bone with the weight of their stories and loss. They previously decorated his throat, but now that burden was mine.
The streetlamps turned on. Anonymous faces glanced at me as if I were a mirage they could just barely make out.
Susan. Nick. Joseph. Grace. Daniel. Jonathan.
I would wait for his return, and he would return in the way the others hadn’t.
“I’m now 60 days sober.” I announced the milestone to the polite applause of a room full of men and women whom I still considered strangers but who knew each intimate detail of my flickering stages in and out of the bottle and what I dared to hope and imagine for my life with Jonathan.
Just 287 more days.
“Jonathan, my boyfriend,” I clarified, even though I had done so every time I spoke of him for the past 60 days. Even though the faces in the group hadn’t changed. Even though they knew all about the cliché romantic tale of falling in love with my dead brother’s best friend.
“He wrote in his last letter that he likes his new assignment, but he still thinks about me daily. He said he can’t wait to see the new paint in the bedroom.”
That night, I opened the red door decorated with poorly painted blueberries and the number 8251 stenciled in black. The mailbox squealed in protest.
Inside were two late payment notices for bills and one letter from the United States Armed Services.
Alexandria Mansfield is a writer from Pennsylvania where she attends university for a degree in journalism. She writes personal experiences with a twist of fiction.